November 8, 1990

Humphrey Returns to The Bay

For I hadn't had so much fun since the day,

My brother's dog Rover got run over.

Rover was killed by a Pontiac, and it was done with such grace and artistry that the witnesses awarded the driver both ears and the tail.

Tom Lehrer: Bullfight

They've taken the romance out of death --or have they?

Time was when Camille gasped her last on the stage or screen. There wasn't a dry eye in the audience. People paid money to watch her die. Night after night, people sat through a boring play in order to see her gasp her last.

When the movie cowboy's horse broke a leg, the cowboy was allowed to weep. With tears in his eyes, he kissed his horse and said "Goodbye, old friend". This was followed by the sound of a gunshot and the cowboy was seen dragging his saddle across the desert.

There was a stage actor in the Old West, who was famous for his death scenes. He would perform encore after encore to shouts from the audience of "die again, Harry!"

You would think that with this background, people would wait for Humphrey The Humpbacked Whale to spout his last spout. Then everyone would cry and go out for pizza. --But no! The rescue is underway and, whatever it costs, the whale will be cajoled, frightened or shoved back out into the ocean, to return, perhaps some other day --to die again. At last report, Humphrey had returned to his proper habitat, the ocean.

Whoever said that cetaceans are intelligent wasn't thinking of Humphrey. As mammals go, this one has to be pretty stupid to make the same almost-fatal mistake twice. A cat wouldn't do that.

I've been to Marine World and I'm impressed with the dolphins and killer whales. For denizens of the deep, they swim real good. And they're smart enough to leap and swim in formation. To insinuate that this is the equivalent of the cows following one another back to the barn might get me lynched. Actually, I'm not as impressed with their smarts as with the power that it takes to get that mass out of the water.

Many cetaceans seem to like people. I don't know whether that's a sign of intelligence or stupidity.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe all of those spectators aren't waiting for that whale to be rescued. Maybe they are waiting for him to die.

I suspect that the reason that people watch the trapeze act at the circus is the hope that one of those acrobats will fall to his death. It really takes no more skill to perform 30 feet above the ground than it does to do the same thing five feet off the ground where the performer risks a mere broken leg. What people are thrilled with is the chance of death --the defiance of death; the high-stakes gamble in which death or the player will win. That's what bull fighting is all about. It's why more people are attracted to rodeos and bull fights than to horse shows or cattle auctions.

I must be peculiar because, to me, something dead is just meat --nothing more. Something alive can be exciting. I enjoy watching acrobats perform on the ground or a skilled horse person. Once dead, a performer is as interesting as a hunk of sandstone.

As for Humphrey the Humpbacked Whale, if he dies in the bay, will they use his flesh for dog food, or waste it?

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